Friday, January 31, 2014

"The Street Of My Distress"


“The Avenue Of My Distress” – which seems to flow better.


“The Avenue of Broken Bones.”

That’s how you rewrite until it gets terrible. 

Or maybe it’s not terrible, maybe it’s eye-catchingly commercial, reminiscent of the “Bob Hope” story I related recently demonstrating the difficulty of distinguishing between “Over the top” and “Right on the money.”

Pick a title, and we’ll move on.

Once again, my writer friend Paul and I have a dinner engagement.  I will meet him outside his condo, just south and slightly west of where I live, and we will walk down to Hal’s, located on Abbot Kinney (Avenue, or something) in Venice.

It is early-sunset winter dark.  (Yes, it does get dark in Southern California.  We cannot avoid all natural occurrences.)  We meet up on schedule (actually, I am a little late; the blanketing darkness made me unable to read the address numbers and I walked right past his condominium.)

Also, Los Angeles – and Santa Monica is perhaps even a greater culprit in this regard – is less than generous in its public street illumination.  A paucity of light stanchions and insufficiently watted bulbs.)

(Do you sense someone laying the groundwork for an impending legal action?)

We start south on Second Street, engaging in what I have no doubt is scintillating Wilde-Bernard-Shaw-worthy badinage when…

I catch my foot on something, and fall instantly to the sidewalk.

Let me quickly assure you that, happily, no lasting damage was incurred, although I did receive substantial bruising to my right knee, both hands, my forehead and my face.

So I’m okay.  As a child might put it, I simply “fell down and went boom.”  (And got up again and continued on the Hal’s, impressing my friend Paul by my fortitude in the process.  Sometimes, I am uncharacteristically courageous.  Plus, I feared medical attention in case something was actually wrong.) 

Truth is, I am hardly a stranger to toppling to the ground.  I have tripped and fallen before – I mean not every day but annoyingly often – on sidewalks, on hiking trails, stepping from a clodded dirt area onto pavement – any place where there is an uneven surface, a protruding tree root or a unexpected rock, there is a good chance I will wind up horizontal and bleeding. 

Why does this happen? 

Because the world is not always accommodatingly flat and smooth and I am, and for as long as I can remember I always have been, a chronic and congenital “Foot Dragger.”

I would bet that the differences are temperamentally inspired, but whatever the explanation, people walk differently.  Some people step lively.  Some people strut.  Some people skip (occasionally “to my Lou”.)  Some people take confident strides like their Daddy owns the company.  Some people flex their knees up high like they’re in a marching band playing “Seventy-Six Trombones.”

Me?  I shuffle along like Jean Valjean in his eleventh year of incarceration.

Accompanying this fatalistic amble has been, until just recently, a distinctly bowed head, directed not energetically forward but dropped in perennial deference to my “betters”, who, my lowered-head positioning suggests, is everybody.  I have found a lot of abandoned coinage that way, but my earthbound trajectory also made me appear older.  Even as a teenager, I looked seventy.

Now nearing seventy, I have made prodigious efforts to elevate my south-facing head positioning through judicious regimens of muscle strengthening, bodywork and pilates.  Today, my alignment is considerably improved my appearance.  (I look barely out of my fifties.)  But it comes with a price.  Since my upgraded configuration, I have not found a nickel on the ground, and looking ahead ‘stead of straight at my feet, I fell, ignominiously, down in the street. 

A scannable couplet that came accompanied by a ferocious black eye.

Fast Forward – I am on my traditional Wednesday morning walk, wearing oversized sunglasses so as no to frighten impressionable children.  As I proceed, I remain scrupulously watchful, so as not to duplicate my recent bellyflop to the pavement.

The Fourth Street sidewalk is a disaster.  Barely a flat spot to be seen, some of the unevenness stemming from maintenancal neglect, some, the result of the outreaching roots of the street-lining trees, forcing cracks and inconsistencies in the concrete slabs. 

I make a left onto Rose (on my way to the Groundwork coffee emporium) and that street’s even worse.  Canines bred for mountain rescue are skittering all over the sidewalk.  The pedestrianality is seriously precarious.  It’s like walking on ice.  (Which I thought I had gotten away from forever.)

Increasingly furious, I compose in my head an irate letter to the Santa Monica “Powers That Be”, articulate and well argued, demanding in a nutshell,

You’re a prosperous city.  Fix the damn sidewalks!”

Heading back from getting coffee, I decide to bypass the Fourth Street return route and trek down to Second Street, to investigate the “scene of the crime” and amass incontrovertible evidence for my position.  

I turn right at the corner and make my way north on Second Street.

And almost immediately, I notice – because it is impossible not to –

That Second Street is indisputably flatter and smoother than either Fourth Street or Rose.

And I mean for blocks!

No uneven sidewalk.  No protruding tree roots.  I did see one troubling pothole, but to get tripped up by that, you’d have to stick your toe into it, and I am a habitually “heel-toe” kind of a walker.

I felt crazily confused.  It was like one of those mysteries where you bring the cops back later and the body’s missing and the murder scene has been cleaned up.

I am not suggesting “foul play” here.  (Or am I?)  It’s just… from the perceivable evidence…

There was nothing to trip over on Second Street.

Any yet I still fell.

Any amateur sleuths in the audience?

Help me out here, will ya?
Okay, this is embarrassing.  I once wrote, with an agitated discomfort, about owning eleven belts. This one is far worse.

Merely five weeks after enjoying a luxurious vacation in Hawaii, we are leaving tomorrow for a week at this spa that we go to in Mexico.  The visions of this egregious excessiveness, and how it appears to strangers, are overpowering to me.  I feel agonizingly ashamed.  I am not looking for vindication here. It is simply the way it is.

The reason for these dual extravagances being so proximitous is that next Tuesday is my 69th birthday, and my selected celebrational treat is a week of comfortable seclusion (which I greatly prefer to a party), massages and pampering.  I also harbor the, I'm sure, fruitless belief that if I secrete myself at a remote location on my birthday, God will not know where I am.  I know that sounds desperate, but I am getting really old.

Since I do not engage in any of the exercise classes down there, and the lounge has wifi, I am hoping to provide daily dispatches from where I am.  At least that is the plan. If it doesn't work out, just  hum to yourselves till I get back.  Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" is always a good choice.  I figure if I cannot perform for your amusement, the least I can do is provide humming suggestions.

I promise you I will never take two trips this close together again.  It's's my birthday.  Not an excuse.  Simply a mitigating explanation.

I will see you around.  When I will be another year older.      


Mike T. said...

How about "The Boulevard of Broken Bones"? It has two advantages: (1) alliteration and (2) a play on the song title "The Boulevard of Broken Dreams."

N Fetchit said...

Toma otra gran fiesta!